Written by Erin Robinson, Deloitte Consultant and current Bodhi Surf School Intern
I grew up land-locked in the middle of the United States, in a small college-town called Lawrence, Kansas. Amongst its many family-owned businesses, there’s a store called “Shark’s Surf Shop” that sells apparel ironically reading “Surf Kansas”, with a character surfing on wheat fields. My first time seeing the ocean was at age six. I still recall the mix of awe and panic that it inspired. How could a body of water be so vast and so powerful? Movies like The Perfect Storm and Deep Blue Sea gave me nightmares. I couldn’t believe there were sea creatures bigger than my school bus. In short, the ocean terrified me as a child. When I showed up to work at Bodhi Surf School on a three-month consulting sabbatical, I had no idea that somewhere deep inside, my childhood fears still existed.
It’ll be easy, right?
At a young age, I became an enthusiastic wakeboarder and snowboarder. During the summers, my family would spend most weekends at our lakehouse in the Ozarks, and every winter we took a trip to the Rocky Mountains. I thought my “boarding” background would make me a natural when I got on a surfboard. I was wrong.
An hour into my first surf lesson, I had a raging headache and a bruised ego. My standard exercise regime did nothing to prepare me for the smack-down that Mother Ocean had in store. I finished the lesson and had to force a smile. Determined, I came back for second, third, and fourth lessons later in the week. Same story, different days. I stood on the board a handful of times, but my brief triumph was surpassed by frustration as I watched other people in the lessons progress from “white waves” to “green waves” like “real” surfers. Why couldn’t I keep up?
Ever present in my mind was the latent threat of sea creatures. Gibran and Adrianne, Bodhi Surf’s phenomenal instructors, told me to drag my feet in the sand so as not to step on the stingrays. STINGRAYS?! Signs told me “Peligroso: Cocodrilo”, aka “Beware of Crocodiles”. CROCODILES?! A young surf student got stung by a jellyfish and had to sit out the rest of the lesson. JELLYFISH?!
A completely new challenge
And so for the first three weeks of my time in Costa Rica, I struggled with Mother Ocean’s power and the “devil on my shoulder” telling me that I would be swallowed-up by a shark at any moment. Then one afternoon, I went to the beach with Adrianne, Gibran, and my friend Destin for sunset surfing. It was my second time going out to the “green waves” but my first time doing so in calm(ish) conditions. I paddled my way out, trying my hardest to keep up. I made it past the white, breaking waves, and then all of the sudden it was calm. There were maybe 20 local surfers lounging on their surfboards as Mother Ocean gave a reprieve. A set of waves began to roll in, and a Gibran turned to me and said, “Go, Erin! This is it! Paddle!”
I turned my board and paddled as hard as I could, hearing the wave roaring behind me. From a distance, I heard Gibran yell, “Paddle, paddle, paddle! UP!!!!” And without thinking, I jumped to my feet and felt the wave carry my board down and then forward. I was surfing.
The “aha” moment
Afterwards, I paddled back to the group, who were cheering and hollering as I grinned from ear to ear. I laid-down on my board and sighed in relief. The sun began to set, and in my mind, it clicked. In that moment, I stopped fighting the ocean for power and control. I stopped worrying about sea creatures and danger. I felt at peace with nature and at peace with myself.
Learning to surf highlighted challenges that I didn’t even realize were holding me back: a need for control, a fear of the unknown, a discomfort with failure. When I released control, when I accepted the unknown, and when I became comfortable with the prospect of failing, I felt at peace. I was able to marvel at the beauty of the sunset and feel connected to the people, the ocean, and the world around me. Learning to surf is not about conquering a new sport. Learning to surf is about learning who you are.
Thank you to Bodhi Surf School for giving me this special opportunity!